A very good morning to my dear OS.me family. I hope all of you are doing well in these challenging times and safe and healthy at home.

I have just recovered from a bout of Covid 19, and Swamiji’s grace and Sri Hari’s warm embrace of love ensured that I spent 17 days quarantined in my bedroom without making too much fuss. My love of reading ensured that I never felt lonely or bored. So obviously, the first thing I thought was that I need I share my passion for reading with the family.

My father worked in the Indian Railways and had a modest income. We lived in the government quaters in Sarojini Nagar and were a family of six people. Dad loved English literature, and we always had a continuous supply of books at home. As a child, I remember fruits and books we always in abundant supply at our house.

We rarely bought new books from Teksons in South Extension. Most of my books were either gifts or hand-picked from the second-hand book market in Dariyaganj. Describing me as a voracious reader is an understatement. When I read a good book, I am wholly transported into its world. I can be on a bus, a busy marketplace, on my couch, or on an airplane, but my mind is completely immersed in the book.

I remember big fat tears rolling down my cheek as I was sitting on a bus going from Azadpur Mandi to my college in Delhi. Farmers around me carrying gunny backs full of spinach, onion, and potatoes were starting at this big fat 20-year-old silently weeping as he thumbed through Eric Segal’s Love Story.

Another story that would highlight my craze for books revolves around Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. It was released in 2003 while I was still in college. I did not have money to buy the original book for 500 rupees, so I waited a couple of days and then called my aunt – a journalist – my perennial supplier of books. She picked up the call, heard my voice, gave her characteristic laugh. She said, ” I have the book and have read it in a rush so that I can hand it over to you. Come home, have lunch and collect the book”. The journey from Sarojini Nagar to Vasant Kunj seemed to take seconds because I was revising the fourth Harry Potter book. I reached her house, gulped my lunch, grabbed the book, gave my aunt a big hug, and went off. While leaving my aunt’s house, I got a call from a friend who lived nearby. Many of my school friends were getting together at his house since he had scored a CD of the Hollywood classic Basic Instinct. He called me over to enjoy some yummy food and the company of the gorgeous Sharon Stone. I reached his house, picked up the food, and to utter amazement of my friends, sat in a corner reading Harry Potter and munching chips while they gaped and gawked at Sharon Stone. Don’t get me wrong. I was just as excited as them, but between a newly released Harry Potter and an old sleazy Hollywood movie, I knew where my priorities lay.

The love for books also helped me meet my spouse, and most of our courtship ended up in Oxford Bookstore CP.

One of my finest memories of visiting a book store involves an epic trip to the United States. I managed a team in CA Technologies Hyderabad and had to attend a meeting in the New York office.

Since my boss wanted to exhaust the budget for the year, they booked business class tickets. I reached Hyderabad airport and realized that they have upgraded me to first class for the Dubai leg of the journey. I got a private cabin, and the air hostess kept asking me to choose between various exotic kinds of alcohol. A couple of glasses of orange juice, and I was all set for a 3-hour nap till we landed in Dubai.

The Dubai to US leg was with the Airbus A 380, and the business class journey was supremely comfortable. Since Emirates allows you to avail a free cab to your destination in New York, I booked a cab to Penn Station. The driver turned out to be an Indian boxer who abandoned the team after Atlanta Olympics and stayed back in the US. He got citizenship and was a few blocks away from the twin towers when they came crashing down.

At Penn Station, as I waited for the train, I met a German gentleman speaking Hebrew because he worked for a Jewish Deli as a delivery guy. I love NY city because you don’t get such stories anywhere else.

My sister lived in a small town about three hours from NYC. I wandered sleep-deprived into her house. Her mother-in-law kept laughing because, for three to four days, I would be up at 3 AM heat frozen parathas and munch on them while she began her day with prayers.

My sister knew about my love affair with books, so she asked her husband to drop me at a bookstore near his workplace. It was a mid-sized independent bookstore. The easiest way to tell an independent book store from a chain is to notice the little details. You will see customized sections, hand-written cards, funny descriptions, and just the love and warmth you associated with home. If I can give you a food analogy, think about eating chole bhature at your aunt’s house vs. at a famous food joint. The food is delicious at both places, but it’s customized to your taste at home. A dash of lemon, some panner in the bhatura, extra onions, and most importantly, the love in its preparation elevates the dish.

These are the things that set an independent book shop apart. Books are not for sale. They are treasures you purchase because you want to hold them, caress them, protect them, and grow with them. This bookshop was the best that I had ever visited. Every corner had something special, and it was sprinkled with joyful, melancholic, and personalized notes for many sections. I wandered through the bookshop, absolutely punch drunk, soaking myself in the world of books. I already had jetlag, and that combine with the aura of this book shop to elevate me into a drugged state of bliss. I plopped myself on a small stool, browsed through multiple books, and drifted through different states of consciousness. Four hours later, when my brother-in-law came to find me, that’s how he saw me. I bought my favorite book from this shop.

It’s called Footnotes from the World’s Greatest Bookstores. The book includes sketches of the world’s greatest bookstores and snippets of experiences that people had there. A bookshop owner talked about a lady who sent him the following note.

“I hope you don’t freak out, but I have spread some of my grandfather’s ashes in your poetry section. This was his favorite place in the world.”

When I was recovering from COVID, I reread this book. I savored the story of each shop and used Google Maps Street view to visit the store. I “walked” around the street, into the book shop, and the indescribable joy that permeated through each cell in my body helped me heal faster.

Not-so random musings - the joys of reading 1 Not-so random musings - the joys of reading 2 Not-so random musings - the joys of reading 3

The next time you choose between reading a book and watching it on TV, remember a small tip. When you read a book, your mind creates a personal movie in your head. The characters, the set, the action, everything is personal and, in my case, far more vivid than anything any director could ever hope to achieve. The budget in my brain is unlimited, and so every time I see a movie of my favorite book, I walk away disappointed. The only exception is Lord of the Rings, and you have to see the making to understand why that’s the case.

So dear Parivar, if you have not yet experienced the joy of books, give it a try. Don’t ask anyone for recommendations. Just read what you feel like. Your taste is different so embrace it. I have not met a single person who does not like reading. They just have not found the right book.

Lots of love to all of you. Jai Sri Hari and a warm embrace.

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Akshay Iyer

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